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Out of the Past Records a vinyl destination

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Updated: March 27, 2012 8:01AM



A collector of vintage vinyl knows there are two sides to every story.

And the stories are plentiful, amusing and inspiring at Out of the Past Records, 4407-09 W. Madison, owned and operated by Charlie Joe and Marie Henderson.

West Garfield Park residents since 1963, the Hendersons are the neighborhood’s power couple — the Berry Gordy and Diana Ross who never left. Part of the great Southern post-war migration, they’ve witnessed a panaroma of social change. They survived the 1968 West Side riots and the subsequent community upheavals. They survived a 1977 arson in a previous West Madison Street location. They survived a flood last year that left more than four feet of water in their store’s basement. They have survived the economic downspin around their current space, which they have occupied since 1986.

With an inventory of almost 1 million items, Out of the Past takes up a double building with 10 rooms of records, cassettes, 8-tracks, CDs and DVDs. Genres include soul, rap, gospel and blues. On any given day, visitors include European crate diggers, Chicago cops and Shadow, the store’s cross-eyed black cat. The place has more dust than the Oklahoma plains. The emporium once housed an automobile dealership. Treasures abound everywhere. Near a former car ramp, there are stacks of sealed Rudy Ray Moore 8-tracks. Behind cobwebs.

City of Chicago historian Tim Samuelson confirms the building’s storied past. “In the 1920s, the [Out of the Past] building was occupied by Chicago Motor Exchange, a new car dealer that brokered in independent, smaller manufacturers, instead of a single make of car. By the 1940s, it was a store specializing in auto parts, and then it was a tire store known as City Tire Co. into the 1960s. It is a wonderful place.”

But the wonder began with Charlie Joe’s fascination for freaky hippie-style bone earrings of the late 1960s.

“We had a photography studio at 8 S. Pulaski that we turned into a little record store,” Marie says during a Friday morning at Out of the Past. “We then opened a wig store, hat store and a restaurant. My husband decided he was going to make bone earrings. That’s when people were wearing the big Afros. We would dry out chicken bones, neck bones and hamhock bones. Then my husband spray-painted the bones lime green. Red. Yellow. They were beautiful!” Marie starts laughing loudly, and Charlie Joe does, too.

Charlie Joe, 71, knows where Marie, 70, is going. Their life has been a song and dance. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year. Their favorite song is the 1960 Brook Benton/Dinah Washington duet “Baby (You Got What It Takes).”

Of course.

“Women would run around with these wishbone earrings hanging down,” Marie continues. “But people were breaking into the store, so my husband says, ‘I’m going to put me a dog in here!’ ”

Charlie Joe bought a German shepherd with fangs as sharp as the Chiffons’ beehive bouffants.

“We came back to work the next morning, and the dog ate all the bones,” Marie says, still laughing at the memory. “That dog was lying on the ground like he was so happy.”

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Some albums at Out of the Past are categorized, but they are mostly spread across the store like seashells on a beach. Cassettes are neatly stacked at the store’s west end. A huge pile of dusty 45s sits near a southeast corner. Tucked away in a lost corner is a small “Caucasian” section with sealed LPs by forgotten ’70s bands like the Bay City Rollers.

Marie is on the lookout for valuable items. One shopper found a $10 mint copy of a rare Millie Jackson album with a cover photo of the soul singer sitting on a toilet. But such novelties don’t impress Charlie Joe: “I have no other interest in them other than financial.”

Iconic Chicago soul singer Otis Clay has brought record collectors from across the world to Out of the Past. “There are places, but there is no place like that place,” Otis says. “I have a friend from Pittsburgh who comes to the store in his Toyota truck and loads up. I’ve spent half a day there going through things.”

Last April, the store’s basement flooded, with water cresting at 51 inches. Hundreds of Kurtis Blow, Stevie Wonder and Syl Johnson LPs somehow survived. “Before all this happened, European collectors would come down here, and we would lock them in at night,” Charlie Joe says while walking up the dusty car ramp framed by corrugated tin. “We just live a half a block away. We’d come back the next morning, the people would be so dirty, but they would be so happy.”

Did Charlie Joe trust them?

“Sure,” he answers. “They couldn’t get out. But they could always call us.”

◆◆◆

Quite appropriately, the Out of the Past story began with Charlie Joe’s fascination with capturing moments on camera.

Charlie Joe bought his first Polaroid camera in 1964. He took Polaroids of customers in the West Lake Street blues clubs, Walton’s Corner on Roosevelt Road, and the Confidential at 105 N. Pulaski, where the gritty Bobby Rush headlined, as well as singing boxer Ernie Terrell. Charlie Joe put his photos in frames and sold them to customers.

Word of Charlie Joe’s work spread in the black community.

In 1964, he opened his studio with photographer Marvin Cole at 8 S. Pulaski. “I was a garment cutter,” Charlie Joe says. “I quit that and went into business. I would take pictures in the [housing] projects at 9 o’clock in the morning and wouldn’t leave until 10:30 at night. Every project in Chicago. I liked that because I didn’t have to travel. I just went from floor to floor. No one ever put a hand on me. But morals went downhill after the King assassination. I was appalled at the graffiti, urine in the hallways, the threatening looks. By 1973, I knew the game was over.”

Marie smiles gently and says, “My husband is adventurous. He likes to try things.”

In the summer of 1969, a customer suggested that Charlie Joe start selling records out of his studio. Charlie Joe likes to try things. He bought a turntable and installed a big speaker outside. “We went to Barney’s One Stop [record distributor] on Roosevelt Road and bought 60 copies of ‘Color Him Father’ by [the Washington, D.C., soul group] the Winstons,” Charlie Joe says. “We played that song and sold out in a day. Man, I thought, ‘This is for me!’ ”

The song resonated with his clientele because “in that area, there was no father at home,” he says. “Mother brought this other man there, and he acted as a father. That record got us going.”

◆◆◆

Charlie Joe lost his own father at a young age. He was reared by his mother, Almentha. His father, Artis, was a hotel waiter in the resort town of Indian Springs, Ga., halfway between Atlanta and Macon. He was illiterate.

Artis was shot to death when Charlie Joe was 4 years old.

“We lived in a clapboard shack in Indian Springs, my mother, father, two brothers and my sister,” he recalls. “My mother and father sold whiskey. One day, this white guy that my father grew up with came to the house and was drinking with him.”

A black friend of Artis’ walked through the door and asked why a white person was in the house. The two black men began arguing. “I saw them fighting in the yard,” Charlie Joe says. “The black man said he was going kill my father. I clung to my father all that night. I went to sleep, woke up and was told my father was dead. There was blood everywhere. The man came back and fooled my father to the door like he wanted to apologize. Then he shot him with a shotgun.

“That is the only day of my life where I can remember the entire day.”

Charlie Joe turns away and looks at an old blues record. The cover is water-damaged but the inside is clean and true.

“I like the blues,” Charlie Joe says. “I like country-western, but we don’t have a lot of country-western in the store because we don’t have any country-western fans. My parents were religious. They didn’t allow us to listen to the blues. But we could listen to country-western. I didn’t hear any blues until I was 15 and came to Chicago.”

After working as a domestic in Atlanta, Almentha moved to Chicago in 1949. Every year, she would call for one of her sons. “My turn came in October 1955,” Charlie Joe says.

In a happy coincidence, Marie also arrived in Chicago in October 1955, from Jackson, Miss. Her family settled at California Avenue and Roosevelt Road. Marie’s father, Robert Walton, found work at a Loop cigar shop. Marie’s mother, Lillie Mae, worked at the Curtis Candy Co., before stopping to raise her eight children.

Right after she graduated from Harrison Technical High School in 1959, Marie became a mail-order carrier at Montgomery Ward . Meanwhile, Charlie Joe’s mother would take the same CTA bus route as Marie. As they became friends, Marie learned about one of Charlie Joe’s sisters.

Marie’s family lived at 1900 S. Albany, and Charlie Joe’s family was half a block away.

Charlie Joe soon came into the picture. He had a plan.

Marie and Charlie Joe were married Feb. 25, 1961, at City Hall in downtown Chicago.

◆◆◆

Music and images have always been part of Charlie Joe and Marie’s life, but nothing could capture the sound and fury of the West Side riots that followed the April 4, 1968, assassination of Martin Luther King.

Around 3 p.m. on April 6, 1968, Charlie Joe noticed people milling around his photo studio. He decided to close early and walk home. “I never dreamed what was going to happen was going to happen,” he says. “That night about 8 o clock, it seemed like the whole world was on fire. Cars were blowing up. Fire was all around. We kept our [five] kids in the house. A young white policeman was trembling with a shotgun. How could you tremble if you had a shotgun? They didn’t touch my place because I didn’t have anything of value. They wanted clothes. They burned down the big old theater across the street.”

Looters took the seats right out of the floor at the Alex Theater, 3828 W. Madison, a vaudeville house built in 1910. A decade earlier, Charlie Joe had befriended Muddy Waters guitarist Jimmy Rogers at Big Bill Hill’s nightclub on West 15th Street. Rogers owned a West Side clothing store that burned down in the riots.

The first six pages of the April 7, 1968, Sun-Times are preserved in plastic near the front of Out of the Past — so people living in the present can understand what went down. The headline reads: “ARMY TROOPS ARRIVE HERE.”

“That’s how I bought my first store at 3948 W. Madison,” Charlie Joe says. “It had been Howard Clothings of New York. That’s where I bought my suit when I graduated high school [Crane, Class of ’59]. But once the owners saw the riots, they wanted out.”

In 1972, Charlie Joe paid $40,000 for the brick building.

He did not want out. He saw an opportunity.

The Hendersons’ music business picked up steam. “During the beginning of the 8-track tape [era], we would buy 2,000 8-track tapes on a Friday,” he says. “By Monday morning, we wouldn’t have but 20 left. Eight-track tapes was the hottest thing to hit this country, except maybe for wigs. There will never be anything that sold as well for us as wigs and 8-track tapes.”

Next to the current Out of the Past location was a pool hall. Charlie Joe bought that building, too. “The photo studio [on Pulaski] was burned down,” he says. “Our store at 4052 W. Madison burned down [in 1977]. The owners burn down the buildings, collect the insurance and sell the empty lot. I was always left holding the bag. Simple as that.

“I wouldn’t burn down my own building.”

Charlie Joe says, “It is now a tough neighborhood, but everybody knows me.”

Marie adds, “All our children grew up here. People call me ‘Mom.’ I see young guys coming in here with their pants down, they come through the door, you know what they do? They pull their pants up. I tell them, ‘I’m not looking at crack today.’ They comply.”

Charlie Joe glances at his bride of 50 years. His eyes sparkle like new cellophane. “I could have moved to the suburbs and bought a nice house,” he says. “But I felt loyal to this neighborhood.”

Marie smiles back at Charlie Joe.

Loyalty is never out of style at Out of the Past.

For more Out of the Past
photos and stories, please visit blogs.suntimes.com/hoekstra.



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